The Minister of Health-designate to replace retiring Minister Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, has assured members of the Senate Committee on Health that if given the opportunity, he would help to reform the health care sector, take care of the needs of health care workers and improve access and delivery across the country.
Grilled by members of the Health Committee chaired by Grand Kru County Senator, Dr. Peter Coleman, Minister of Health-designate George T. Werner informed the Senators that he has quite a complex, yet simple background.
“I have a background of long history as an educator and a health worker and I have served as clinical therapist in the United States for many years. I also was admitted into the prestigious program for leadership for neuron-disability, helping and caring about pediatrics, and how to use health care management to attend to the needs of children who have health issues at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.”
Mr. Werner informed the committee that twice, he taught at Mother Patern College of Health Sciences, first in Social Politics and later in Social Deviance in Technology.
“I bring to my work vast experience in education, in healthcare and public administration. These three are important issues we face in the health care sector. The Ministry of Health has the Chief Medical Officer that is primarily responsible for delivery on the medical services of the institution.”
The outgoing Civil Service Agency Director General said what the Health Ministry needs and what he can give it “is proven experience in personnel management to resolve personnel issues.”
Werner asserted that the country, through the Ministry of Health, is mobilizing vast resources for the post-Ebola healthcare sector, and that it will need an administrator to improve the systems that are there, “so that our development partners who are willing to give us their resources may give them to us and hasten the process to eradicate Ebola in the country; and at the same time improve the health care sector.”
Prior to his appearance at the Capitol Building, Werner disclosed that he had been at the Ministry of Health where he held discussions relating to payroll issues, which he said were solely based on his involvement with various grievances from health care workers.
At the same time, he said was working with World Bank and development partners to figure out the issue of healthcare workers who died during the Ebola epidemic and their families, and what Government could do. “We have been working in that capacity; so I feel I am prepared to carry on this task.”
As Director General for CSA, Werner said he had met and discussed with Deputy Minister and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bernice Dahn ways in which the health sector can be helped to move very quickly.
He asserted that one of the thorny issues within the Ministry of Health is pay and equity pay. “I gave her a proposal that will be funded by our donor partners; to create one payroll for all healthcare workers, from specialized medicine to the sanitation personnel within the Ministry or within the hospital. To rationalize it—and we have to do so before the next budget year—we need one payroll administered by the CSA which authorizes the Ministry of Finance to pay.
Questioned as to whether he would try to reawaken his abandoned controversial plan of reforming the civil service sector of the government that would see tens of thousands of employees dismissed and/or made redundant, Mr. Werner clarified that on the contrary, the Ministry of Health will need about 30,000 people in the health sector.
He said the country is expected to benefit from huge resources for the improvement of the health care sector, upgrading the capacity of workers both at home and abroad; while at the same time encouraging Liberian medical doctors and other trained medical practitioners to return home to help improve the sector.
With all of the explanations, most members of the Committee were concerned about the qualification of Werner in the area of medicine.
He was asked whether he did not see the need to advise the President that she needed to appoint somebody like the outgoing Minister (who was a medical doctor) for such an important professional job.
The Chair of the Committee, Senator Coleman, who is himself a medical doctor, recalled that only twice had there been a Minister of Health that was not a practicing doctor. (There were actually four non-medical doctors who served as Health Ministers—Mrs. Mai Padmore, President Tolbert’s first Minister of Health; Counselor Oliver Bright, the second, Estrada Bernard, the third; and under Head of State Samuel K. Doe, Martha Sendolo Belleh, a nurse, who succeeded Dr. Kate Bryant in the early 1980s.
However, Werner maintained that with some basic knowledge in medicine, and the position being an administrative one, he felt prepared to carry on his next task successfully.
His fate may be decided as early as this week by the Senate plenary.